||[Apr. 19th, 2008|12:16 pm]
100 COMICS TO READ BEFORE YOU DIE (or grow out of them)
#84 THE SANDMAN #25 – Neil Gaiman, Matt Wagner
“I think it was a dream. But it seemed so real. Like I was really there.”
The Sandman is a story about stories and it tells tales that often involve the title character, who is the King of Dreams, only tangentially. Instead he becomes a platform from which Neil Gaiman launches tales in different genres, just like the old DC anthology books he references by bringing their spooky hosts back from their graves in supporting roles. These substories take a variety of forms, whether daring tales of swashbuckling and derring-do, big fish stories or, as in this case, nightmares.
Issue 25 is a school story in the tradition of Tom Brown’s Schooldays. Saint Hilarion’s School For Boys is a boarding school founded for the sons of soldiers, where Charles Rowland spends his holidays while the other boys are off with their families. He isn’t alone, however. As well as the doddering adults who run the school, the ghosts of boys who lived and studied there before him walk the halls. By crossing the school story with the ghost story, another classic archetypal plot we all know well, it perfectly captures the awfulness of being trapped at school and the casual, meaningless cruelty of children
In a story about a haunted school with cameos from a couple of immortals who personify abstract concepts, Gaiman manages to tell one of the most honest stories about bullying you're likely to read. The adults are revealed to be useless and as faintly mad as they seem when you’re young, the literally untouchable bullies aren’t going to back down as soon as someone stands up to them and the only thing left to do is grow up and move on – though not in the way you expect. This is still a ghost story after all and ghost stories do not usually end with everybody maturing into perfectly well-adjusted gentlemen and living happily ever after.
This nightmare of a school has as much truth in it as a waking version would. The Sandman exists to remind us that the dreams of things can be just as important as the things themselves.